Vicunas, Alpacas and Lamas in South America
More animal welfare in the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia
Covid-19 crisis: Animal welfare work in times of a pandemic
Some activities and focal points of our animal welfare work worldwide – whether sanctuaries, trainings or mobile clinics – had to be paused or adapted in response to the pandemic:
Still, it is our highest priority to safe animal lives, but we cannot risk the health of our partners in doing so. To enable us to carry on our basic animal welfare work despite the current crisis, we have developed the WTG Emergency Fund. Read more about the fund here https://welttierschutz.org/en/wtg-emergency-fund/
We promise to do everything in our power to continue offering the best protection for all animals – the stray cats and dogs, livestock such as donkeys, cattle, sheep and goats as well as wildlife like pangolins and sloths, elephants and bears. Please support our work https://welttierschutz.org/secure/spenden/emergency-fund/
When the protected species of vicunas can legally be caught and shorn every year May till November, animal welfare has until now not played a big role. Also during the shearing of the domesticated species of alpaca and lama, there are animal welfare concerns. Together with our partners of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), we are aiming to change this and educate the local people on the animal welfare appropriate handling of the animals.
Peru and Bolivia
Vicunas belong to the family of camels and once used to roam around Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile as wildlife. Since the times of the Incas in the 15th century, they have been hunted for their wool and back in the day also meat. As a result, in the 1960s, their population had declined dramatically and the species faced extinction. Today, they are protected by a transnational conservation agreement – and their population has been able to recover.
High up in the Andes mountains in Peru and Bolivia, the Vicunas live in a breath-taking habitat: Wild, free and in tight family bonds of around 10 animals, the animals roam as they please. Thanks to their small hoofs, they are able to climb the mountains and their thick but light fur protects them from the ever-changing temperatures and nightly cold. However, exactly their exceptional wool is what makes the animals “as valuable as gold”, as the locals in the region like to say.
For most of the local farmers and indigenous peoples, the wild vicunas – but also the domesticated alpacas and lamas – are their only livelihood – their wool is often the only income they have. For them, the animals are a symbol of “home” and tradition: they are adored and protected. Although this seems like an ideal coexistence between animal and human, in reality this harmony does not always work when it comes to animal welfare.
Missing animal welfare during the traditional shearing
Beginning with rhythmic dances of the so-called “shearing dancers”, who dance through the streets of the local villages, the traditional shearing procedures start: For the “chaccu” (as the shearing of vicunas is called in Peru), the humans stalk the wild animals living far away from civilisation with their dogs but also on motorbikes for hours. Once they find the herds, they herd them back to the villages using loud noises. Scared, the vicunas start racing around in speeds of up 50 km/h. In hundreds, they finally reach the villages – where they are caught and locked in small pastures.
One of the most important days of the year for the locals causes humongous stress in the wild animals
Once caught, the animals start to panic. Vicunas are generally silent when scared or in pain, but you can see the fear in their faces: The ears are back against their head, their nostrils are constantly rousing.
In the pasture, the shearing of the animals takes place. Two people fixate the animal’s legs – one in the front and one the hind ones. A third person then starts shearing. The animal however – not knowing what is happening – try to free themselves in their panic. This results in them being injured, which in turn causes another issue: Most of the tools used are not disinfected and sensitised and there are no hygienic guidelines. This makes any wound an ideal feeding grounds for infections, such as for the highly infectious mange.
Back in the wild, vicunas infected with mange are ridden by the strong need to itch constantly – and end up literally itching the fur off their bodies. They cannot rest, are weak and stop feeding. This highly infectious reaction caused by these mites can easily spread among all animals of the herd and even result in the death of animals.
In cooperation with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), we aim to change this situation in two especially relevant regions: In Nor Yauyos Cochas in Peru as well as Sajama National Park in Bolivia, where more than 14.000 wild vicunas live as well as more than 230.000 alpacas and 55.000 lamas in human care.
Our goal is to work side by side with the local farmers and indigenous peoples – that live together in 635 groups in Peru and 300 groups in Bolivia – before as well as during and after the shearing and improve their handling of the animals. We are for example teaching them how to reduce the animals’ stress during the catching of the animals by not using motorbikes and dogs. Additionally, we educate them on how to fixate and shear the animals animal welfare appropriately and how to reduce the rate of infections by disinfecting the tools and following hygiene standards.
During the shearing, hurt and sick animals are also examined and treated professionally by vets.
To ensure improved animal handling long-term, we are planning on developing strict guidelines regarding the catching and shearing of Vicunas in cooperation with representatives of the different groups.
Every donation helps to support this extensive project.